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Republican Party of Florida Chairman Joe Gruters

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Florida GOP balks at open primaries proposal

Republicans filed a brief with the Supreme Court.

The Republican Party of Florida on Wednesday joined a chorus of criticism of a citizen’s initiative that would lead to “open,” top-two primaries.

The All Voters Vote (AVV) committee would open up some of Florida’s most important primary elections to all voters, including independents, starting in 2024, setting up a “top-two” system.

The citizen initiative proposes that “all registered voters (may) vote in primaries for state Legislature, Governor, and Cabinet regardless of political party affiliation.”

The Florida GOP filed a brief with the Florida Supreme Court opposing the concept, which now has over 700,000 of the required 766,200 valid signatures and appears on track for the 2020 ballot.

Party chairman Joe Gruters, in a media release, noted that the “proposed amendment abolishes party primaries for the Legislature, Governor, and Cabinet.”

“Doing this would allow the top two vote-getters — regardless of party — to move on to the general election,” Gruters added.

Gruters asserted that “if this primary system were in place during the 2018 gubernatorial election, the general election choices would have been Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis. As much as I’d like to see Republicans in every office across Florida, this result would have severely limited the choice for millions of Floridians.”

Gruters went on to say the primaries would look more like “California’s ‘jungle primary’ system.”

The chairman added that “in California there are actually too many Democrat candidates on many of the ballots, which causes vote splitting and allows the minority party in a district to band together and support fewer candidates creating a scenario where the top two vote-getters on the general election ballot are both from one political party.”

Ben Gibson, General Counsel for the Republican Party of Florida, summed up the argument: “Not only is the proposed amendment bad for Floridians, but the ballot title and summary mislead voters into thinking that all this amendment does is open up our current party primaries to NPAs. The truth is far from that.”

“What the amendment really does is abolish party primaries and limit the choice of voters in the general election. The ballot summary and title — ‘All voters vote in primary elections for State Legislature, Governor, and Cabinet’ — do not accurately describe the chief purpose of the amendment and seek to intentionally mislead Florida voters,” Gibson added.

The Florida Republicans’ objection follows, to a point, a similar line of argument as that of Attorney General Ashley Moody, who weighed in Tuesday evening.

Moody said, “The proposed ballot language does not open Florida primaries, it eliminates them, and gives party bosses — not voters — sole discretion over the party candidate nominating process. This proposed summary does not disclose that fact to voters and would undo a system set up to prevent political corruption and closed-door deal-making.”

However, Moody was less concerned with “vote splitting” than with backroom deals.

“The primary process was adopted to eliminate the good-ole-boys clubs of yesteryear when party brass in smoke-filled rooms chose the party’s candidates. While this proposed ballot question purports to improve upon Florida’s system for electing leaders, the ballot title and summary hide the fact that it would explicitly allow political parties to select candidates through a closed process,” she added.

Despite objections from the Republican establishment, and prominent Democrats such as 2018 Gubernatorial runner-up Gwen Graham, the measure likely will be up to Florida voters next year.

The ratification threshold is 60 percent.

All Voters Vote Chairman Glenn Burhans dismissed the latest criticisms.

“This does not prevent political parties from choosing their own candidates free from nonparty member involvement. But under All Voters Vote,” Burhans said, “they will have to do it on their dime and not the taxpayers’.”

“Where taxpayer monies are involved,” Burhans added, “all registered voters should be allowed to cast a ballot in elections that matter.”

“As for his comment regarding the recent primary for Governor,” Burhans closed, “Chairman Gruters’ math is simply wrong because he continues to exclude NPA voters in his calculations.”

“Certainly had another 3.5 million registered voters been allowed to vote for Governor the outcome would have been different.”

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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